It’s certainly an exciting time of the year in professional wrestling. While there’s certainly a buzz surrounding WrestleMania 33 on April 2 in Orlando, Fla., there’s something special about the very next night after the biggest show of the year. The crowds are usually among the loudest of the year outside of WrestleMania - with many fans from the night before purchasing tickets for the following Raw and SmackDown.
Expect the same with the WWE deciding to make the first nights of the new fiscal year of the company to see some changes. Oftentimes, that includes new wrestlers joining the main roster. From call-ups from WWE developmental to wrestlers coming from Japan, the WWE usually has a few wrestlers make their main roster debuts or return the night after WrestleMania.
WWE fans are not only talking about the matches on the WrestleMania 33 card, but also about who might get brought up to the main roster from NXT. There are certainly several names, but not too many can be promoted. The WWE still wants fans to turn out for NXT live events. That’s why wrestlers like Hideo Itami and Kassius Ohno will likely have to wait another year in NXT.
There are also some veterans who could be likely to return to the WWE, in addition to those who have recently fought with “honor” or might need a WWE revival after being “broken.” The following are the top 15 wrestlers who could likely join the WWE main roster after WrestleMania 33.
15 No Way Jose
No Way Jose might not immediately come to mind when thinking of NXT superstars who should be called up. The same could be said for Mojo Rawley, Carmella and Alexa Bliss when they were drafted from NXT in the later rounds of the WWE Draft last summer. No Way Jose is not going to be someone who gets a big push towards a championship. Maybe he can eventually become a mid-card champion.
But the immediate plan would be to maintain the fun-loving gimmick. He has a lot of energy that can easily become infectious with the younger WWE fans. It might be a silly gimmick that might prevent him from a serious push. But No Way Jose could become a big star in a way that Santino Marella was able to during the Ruthless Aggression Era. Maybe he can start a conga line in his WWE debut.
14 DIY (Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano)
It seems that the WWE continues to struggle with having depth in the tag team division. While having enough teams for both Raw and SmackDown, there always seems to be a void on either brand. One team that deserves to have a chance to fill that void would be the team of Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa - DIY. Both men have proven to be extremely talented in the ring and have developed a cult following dedicated since they first came into NXT as dark horses.
Both men had one of the best matches in the early rounds of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic last year. They were also announced to join Raw’s new Cruiserweight Division back in August. But both men have continued to be a tag team in NXT, winning the NXT Tag Team Championship. Ciampa and Gargano could be valuable singles on Raw. But the WWE seems to value them more as a strong tag team moving forward.
13 Shelton Benjamin
After the WWE brand extension draft, the company was contacting a number of veterans to return. The hope was to provide more depth due to the WWE roster being split in two. One name that stood out was former United States and Intercontinental Champion Shelton Benjamin. There is some debate whether he should have been a main event star or not. But one thing is for sure, he was one of the most gifted athletes in the WWE from 2002 until 2010.
Benjamin was supposed to return in July last year, but had to take time off due to a torn rotator cuff. The shoulder surgery meant a delay in his advertised WWE return to the SmackDown Live brand. The former Gold Standard recently posted a video of him doing bench presses saying his doctor said he had to lift 300 pounds before being cleared to perform again. Based on the video on his Twitter account, it could be as soon as April when Benjamin can finally return to the WWE.
12 Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley signed a new contract with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in June 2016. However, TNA’s future has been up and down so much that the actual contract might not be an extensive one. It will be interesting since there seems to be interest by Lashley of having some kind of big bout with Brock Lesnar. During an interview on Jim Ross’ podcast in September, Lashley comments on wanting to have a big WrestleMania match with the Beast Incarnate.
While Lashley was never a major champion in WWE, it would make sense for the two to have a match. Both went from pro wrestling and into the world of mixed martial arts. Both have been successful with Lashley often compared to Lesnar. Lashley might not be a big main event star like Goldberg, but it would certainly be an interesting feud if done properly by the WWE creative team.
11 Bobby Roode
While he’s currently the NXT Champion, Roode could easily drop the championship at the NXT TakeOver event during WrestleMania weekend. It will be interesting because the loser of Roode’s match with Shinsuke Nakamura will likely be called up to the main roster for the night after WrestleMania. The latter will surely follow. Both men deserve to be brought up. In the case of Roode, he’s an older veteran who can’t be kept in NXT for too much longer.
Roode would also be someone to consider adding into a storyline with Triple H. With Samoa Joe as his new enforcer, Roode could be a great addition to that team. There have also been some reports that Joe and Kevin Owens could be forming a faction. Roode would make it a powerful trio to hopefully become a dominant force in the WWE. The three could easily be a second-coming of Evolution.
There might be some concerns with bringing up the top NXT female superstar to the main roster, especially since she’s spent most of 2016 on an undefeated streak since signing with the WWE. But Asuka is more than ready for the challenge of joining the WWE main roster. In fact, she would likely get one of the biggest pops if someone like Charlotte won the Raw Women’s Championship and bragged about how no one being able to beat her.
The same could be said if Alexa Bliss still holds the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Asuka would be valuable to either the red or blue brand. The thing that would be interesting is who would become the next top female wrestler in NXT. It very well could be Ember Moon, who will challenge Asuka at NXT TakeOver in Orlando, Fla.
The WWE has had an interest in Ricochet for a long time. With many of the recent signings for NXT including a number of the best independent wrestling stars, Ricochet would fit right into NXT if not immediately to the main roster. His abilities in the ring would make for a great addition to the WWE’s Cruiserweight Division. If Neville was to retain at WrestleMania 33, a debuting Ricochet would be create a bit of a pop on the Raw after WrestleMania.
However, there might be one flaw to the plan. Ricochet has been wrestling as Prince Puma in Lucha Underground. The character is part of the second half of Lucha Underground’s season three that should pick up again in May. While Ricochet was released from his contract, he is technically not able to appear on television until after the shows have aired. Then again, Ricochet won’t be competing as Prince Puma on WWE television. It’s more like a matter of when, not if.
8 Penta El 0M
Ricochet is not the only Lucha Underground talent who seems to be a free agent in the wrestling world. Pentagon Jr. would announce that he was no longer working for the AAA promotion in Mexico. His name has since changed to Penta El Cero Miedo (or as advertised, Penta El 0M). But he joins a list of other wrestlers to leave Lucha Underground, which is also losing some other top talents.
It will be interesting what happens when they begin taping the fourth season since the tapings for the second half of the third season show Pentagon Dark winning the Lucha Underground Championship. However, other wrestlers like Ricochet and Sexy Star have been able to opt out successfully. While he wouldn’t be able to wrestle in violent matches like he has with Vampiro and Matanza, the “zero fear” character could get over with the WWE Universe quickly.
7 Trish Stratus
The WWE has enjoyed a resurgence in the women’s division. The quality of matches have gotten better with a new era of female superstars. This new generation of women’s wrestling in WWE includes the likes of Charlotte, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. It also includes rising stars in Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. It’s certainly gotten the attention of some past female superstars who know a thing about being part of a women’s revolution in WWE.
A planned return for Stratus had to be cancelled back in October after it was announced she was pregnant with her second child. Her daughter Madison was born on January 14. Taking all factors into consideration, she could be physically ready to return to the WWE any time after WrestleMania 33. Many wrestling fans would love to see Stratus involved in a match with someone like Banks, Charlotte or any of the other current WWE female stars.
6 Adam Cole
Another commonly mentioned wrestler in names that could possibly join WWE is Adam Cole. The man has been one of the best outside of the WWE for a few years now. His stock has risen steadily since first coming to ROH in the Future Shock tag team with Kyle O’Reilly - another wrestler who could also be considered for this list. But Cole has become a star as a three-time ROH World Champion and has been great for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
While Cole has been name dropped in WWE rumors since about 2012, it is picking up more steam now with his contract expiring in April. Cole recently dropped the ROH World Championship to Christopher Daniels. Cole recently said he’s staying focused on his current tasks. Unlike other rumored ROH talents linked to WWE (i.e. Dalton Castle and Lio Rush), Cole is likely more ready for a main roster move.
5 Shinsuke Nakamura
His debut on the WWE main roster might be delayed if he defeats Bobby Roode at NXT TakeOver in Orlando at WrestleMania weekend. Regardless, Shinsuke Nakamura is a popular wrestler who has continued to evolve and grow since coming to WWE from Japan around this time last year. In that one year, Nakamura has had five-star matches with Finn Balor, Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe.
It’s only a matter of time before we see Nakamura come up to the main roster. While someone like Hideo Itami has been in the NXT system longer, Nakamura hasn’t had as many injuries keep him from competing like Itami has. Both would make a great match in a WWE main roster event; possibly at WrestleMania 34 or 35. But for now, the King of Strong Style is poised for the big leagues in WWE.
4 Cody Rhodes
While this might seem like a long shot, this would be a perfect “never say never” scenario that would provide some shock value. Cody Rhodes is someone who has made quite a splash in professional wrestling since a year ago when he asked for his release. After time being wasted with a Goldust rip-off gimmick, Rhodes wanted a chance to be himself and be a true pro wrestler. He’s been seen wrestling for just about every major wrestling promotion outside of the WWE.
Rhodes seems to have enjoyed the time of working anywhere he wants without a full-time commitment. But he did post on his Twitter account asking fans where they would like to see him go if he were to hypothetically commit to one promotion full-time. As unlikely as it might be, the WWE would be smart in trying to bring him back and give him a big push that he’s deserved for a while.
3 Kurt Angle
In the WWE, the phrase “never say never” has been thrown around for a number of former WWE superstars. Kurt Angle looked to be one of the exceptions a few years ago after spending the last decade working for TNA Wrestling. His departure from the WWE was centered on his health and working for TNA despite dealing with a number of injuries didn’t put him in a positive light. However, Angle has turned things around to a point where he will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend.
There have also been a number of rumors surrounding a potential return to the WWE. In one recent interview, Angle dropped hints about being open to a general manager role. It just so happens that the position opened up on Raw with Mick Foley being “fired.” Triple H also appeared on the Cheap Heat podcast and said they would never say never about an in-ring return for Angle.
2 Jeff Hardy
First of all, there’s a reason I’m separating the Hardy brothers. Jeff Hardy has always been a great singles competitor in addition to being one of the best tag team wrestlers in WWE history. There will come a time when he should team up with his brother Matt. But for an initial return to the company, there would be a lot to gain from having Matt and Jeff split up for a little bit. Jeff Hardy has even said one of his big goals is to win another world championship.
Considering that the Hardys' current Ring of Honor contracts are expected to expire soon, and they just so happen to be in town that weekend with a ROH match with the Young Bucks, it is very likely to see them available to return on subsequent episodes of Raw and SmackDown. Jeff would provide a big boost to the Raw roster.
1 Matt Hardy
You’ve probably read articles that have said Broken Matt Hardy should make his return to the WWE. Call it a premo-NEE-tion. Another one would be that some believe that Matt and Jeff Hardy should stay together as a tag team to feud with “the Day of the New.” However, this might be the one time that Matt Hardy can be a true main event star in the WWE; much like his brother Jeff. Considering how popular he’s become outside of the WWE, being a singles competitor is a great call.
Maybe a feud with Bray Wyatt for the WWE Championship would be quite delightful. There is one problem, with Anthem Sports claiming they have at least partial rights to the “broken” gimmick. However, Matt Hardy could always change the character up to not be the exact same gimmick seen in TNA. We still hope he’ll have creative freedom in WWE. And maybe also have supporting cast members like Senor Benjamin and Vanguard-1 involved, too.